These true short stories started for me when I entered the teaching profession and moved from school to school. The same stories started for the protagonists, long before they had started for me.
Now why am I writing this at this time of the day?
I am a Johorean through and through and my first loyalty is to my Johore, of that I have no doubts at all and I owe no apology to anyone. I owe thanks to my grandfather and to my father who instilled in me, a profound love for my state. My home is Johore and in Johore. I thank the Almighty for that blessing.
Why am I writing this now? What influenced me? Three men.
A Legacy of Honour
A book that brought tears to my eyes - after my doctor had told me that my eyes are not capable of producing tears and I need to apply artificial tears regularly! That my reader, is the extent of my love for this land and the illustrious sons this land called Johore has produced.
I was the Afternoon Supervisor of a secondary school in Batu Gajah, Perak. It was a rural school and the students came from a socio-economic background that was very challenging not just for the students but also for the parents and most certainly for the teachers who wanted to give their charges a break in life. Everyone was caught up in a whirlpool of poverty, lethargy, greed for material goods, lack of money and an indifference to education.
I shall call the boy Mat. He was thirteen years old and he did not have a good attendance record in school, he hardly did his work, fought most of the time with other students, was brought to my office several times a week. His language was disrespectful, his body size was tiny, his attitude was one of bravado, he was loud and thoroughly hateful. But he was a child, he was my student, he still came to school. That must mean something to me.
Then one day my sister visited me and spent the day in my office. I brought the boy to the office and left him with her. She had a story to tell me that evening.
He was one of 11 children in his family. His parents fought violently most days and often drew blood. The children would get hurt. Mat's job was to cook lunch before going to school at noon. He would really like to have some peace. My sister is a psychologist and she works in Adelaide.
I got the boy talking over the next few weeks, without much success. He was polite, mischievous and at the end of the day, a child.
Then one day I saw the cut on his hand. That cut left a scar on his hand and in my conscience. I took him to the Batu Gajah District Hospital for dressing and informed the Hospital Assistant that I suspected some form of abuse. The HA told him that I suspected abuse and asked him if it was true. The boy denied it and I had not wanted the HA to speak as he had done. Who in this world can speak correctly to anyone?
After the dressing on the way back, he told me he was a bit hungry and thirsty, since he had missed his break in school. I stopped at the local KFC because being a Muslim boy, I was not sure where else to go, to buy halal food for him.
We walked to the counter and we were the only customers there. He just stood and kept looking at the displayed pictures and prices. I needed to get back to school.
"Mat, get a burger. It is faster, you can eat in school, and we have to go back," I said. But he did not appear to have heard anything. Then I took a good look at his face. He was in heaven, such joy, such happiness, such contentment in those two eyes!
"Mat, you can order anything you like," I said. He did not hear me. Then the lady at the counter butted in, to help me. "Adik, do you want a lunch plate or a dinner plate?" He looked at her and pointed to the three piece plate combo that came with a drink.
As he plucked the first piece of chicken and put inside his mouth, I asked him, "Do you come here often?"
"Yes, Pn Siva," he replied.
"What is your favourite?" I got a blank look.
"What do you order, when you come here?" He looked at me and replied, "Nothing. I come here and look at the pictures, smell the chicken, and then go back. Today is the first time."
I told him to take his time. He ate his dinner plate and I sipped a cup of water. After more than 30 minutes later, he asked me, "Pn Siva, can I take this home?" There were a few wilted chips, a piece of chicken and half a cup of Pepsi. He looked really tall as he walked to the counter, got a KFC plastic bag, packed his remainder food and walked out to the car with me. He was the envy of his class that evening but I am not sure what happened to his food package at home, for he is one of 11 children.
"Mat, what do you cook for lunch?" I asked as we drove back to school.
"Fried fish and rice."
"How many pieces of fish do you fry?"
"3 or 4."
"How many people eat the fish?"
"13 people." And all the time he was clutching his bag of remnant KFC.
"Mat, how did you cut your hand?"
"Father threw plate at Mother. Plate broke and she threw it back, it hit my hand."
In school, he thanked me and ran off to his classroom with his package. He was still brought to my office, but ... I had changed.
Why do people talk about special rights of the Malays?
Where are the rights of this child?
To feel safe.
To be able to taste what is so often brought to your home as KFC adverts?
We are obsessed with talking about corruption not in tens, hundreds, thousands, millions but billions, letting many get away with it, arresting some and making a big sandiwara out of it to show that we have integrity.
Integrity where art thou when children and parents need you?
to be continued